Shreveport Firefighter’s Termination for Domestic Violence Upheld

A Shreveport firefighter who was disciplined for an act of violence against a woman in front of a fire station in January 2015, and then terminated following a second incident with a different woman in November, 2015, has lost his appeal for reinstatement before the Louisiana Court of Appeals.

Skylo Johnson was terminated by the Shreveport Fire Department in December, 2015. He appealed the decision to the Shreveport Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board.  Despite the fact he was never convicted of a criminal offense and that the victims testified on his behalf, Johnson’s termination was upheld by the board.

Johnson then appealed the decision to the First Judicial District Court for Caddo Parish. Judge Ramon Lafitte upheld the board’s conclusion that Johnson was guilty of misconduct, but reduced the discipline to a 90-day suspension without pay. The city appealed Judge Lafitte’s ruling claiming he exceeded the court’s jurisdiction.

In sustaining the city’s appeal and affirming the validity of Johnson’s termination, the Court of Appeals explained the facts and the law as follows:

  • In January 2015, [Johnson] committed an act of violence against Shirley Hall in front of a fire station. This act was witnessed by fellow firefighters.
  • After the incident with Hall, he received a letter of reprimand from the SFD and was required to undergo anger management counseling.
  • Despite completion of this counseling, Plaintiff attacked Tamika Lattin, his former girlfriend and mother of his children, at their home on November 1, 2015, causing her to have a black eye.
  • She did not go to the police that day; however, when he attacked her again on November 3, 2015, and choked her, fearing for her life, she went to the Shreveport Police to report the incidents.
  • The police obtained a warrant for Plaintiff’s arrest, and he was charged with domestic abuse battery and strangulation.
  • After hearing all the evidence, the Board unanimously determined that the SFD acted in good faith and for cause in disciplining Plaintiff.
  • By a vote of six to two, the Board determined that termination was appropriate.
  • Factual findings in civil service cases are to be given deference by a reviewing court.
  • Review by the district court does not include a trial de novo.
  • The district court may not substitute its opinion for that of the Board.
  • The Board’s decision will not be overturned unless it is manifestly erroneous or arbitrary and capricious.
  • Arbitrary or capricious means there was a lack of a rational basis for the action taken.
  • Disciplinary action against a civil service employee will be deemed arbitrary and capricious unless there is a real and substantial relationship between the improper conduct and the efficient operation of the public service.
  • The appointing authority must demonstrate, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the conduct did in fact impair the efficient and orderly operation of the public service.
  • Although the trial court correctly cited the law pertinent to the review of decisions by the Board and found that Plaintiff was disciplined in good faith and for cause, the trial court incorrectly substituted its opinion concerning the facts of the case when it concluded that the evidence produced at the Board’s hearing did not show that Plaintiff’s bad conduct impaired or affected the continued efficiency of the public service being rendered by the particular department.
  • Weighing the facts in this particular matter and the applicable jurisprudence, we conclude that the trial court erred in reversing the determination of the Board, which was made in good faith and for cause. For these reasons, we reverse the finding of the trial court and reinstate the ruling of the Board, terminating Plaintiff’s employment.

Here is a copy of the decision that was handed down yesterday.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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